Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: The Realistic Joneses

Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei. Photo: Joan Marcus
We Get a Dose of Reality Keeping Up with These Joneses
By Lauren Yarger
Keeping up with the Joneses in Will Eno's The Realistic Jonses might prove a little more difficult than you think. The story is about everything – and nothing – just like the dialogue, but sooner or later you recognize a character you know, or perhaps yourself, and suddenly the seemingly pointless conversation hits home like it was fired at a bullseye. 

It's a witty exploration of conversations comprised mostly of thoughts you would have during conversations, but which you never would say out loud. But imagine if you did. It would be really funny, if awkward. Sort of like this play. 

Sam Gold, who helmed the world premiere at Yale Rep in 2012, directs. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts (August Osage County) reprises his role from the Yale production, but the other characters are newly cast for Broadway.

The older Joneses are Bob (Letts) and his wife, Jennifer (the always fabulous Toni Colette ("The United States of Tara," "The Sixth Sense," "Little Miss Sunshine"). The younger couple with the same surname are John and Pony (Michael C. Hall -- “Dexter,” Chicago and Marisa Tomei -- "My Cousin Vinny") who have just moved in next door in the suburban neighborhood somewhere in the USA.
Jennifer struggles to care for Bob as a rare degenerative disease attacks the areas of his brain that control language and memory. It’s a good thing this long-married couple can complete each other’s thoughts and sentences. Or can they? And if they can, do they want to any more?

Jennifer apologizes for blurting out her concerns about Bob’s declining health to her new acquaintances.

“That’s what separates us from the animals,” John consoles her. “You never hear animals blurting things out. Unless they’re being run over by a car or something.” 

At first it doesn’t seem like the older couple has much in common with their apparently less intelligent neighbors except a moniker, but after a few chance encounters, it becomes clear that they do – practically as John may have the same illness as Bob and emotionally as the couples turn to each other for comfort and hope. The scenes (designed by David Zinn) play out in a backyard setting that doubles for other locations. 

Eno’s script is a mind-muscle-tightening, word workout that is funny and thought-provoking. It needs a strong gel among the performers to pull it off, however, and what Gold achieved at Yale is somewhat lacking here. We don't get a sense of the "developed-over-many-years" camaraderie between Bob and Jennifer or the attraction between her and John. Tomei plays Pony as an innocent -- accepting of everything -- which negates the opportunity to explore the many layers waiting for the character in the script's pages and allows John to be much more likable than he should be.

Instead of the audience shaking their heads "yes" with nods of understanding and satisfaction (like we did at Yale), I think this production probably has more people shaking their heads "no" and asking, "What was that about?" It's too bad, because it's a meaty play with lots to offer about how we deal with each other and with the hardest times life has to offer.

The Realistic Joneses runs through July 6 at The Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., NYC. http://therealisticjoneses.com/.

Christians might also like to know:

-- Language
-- Adult situations

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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